In 2016, a blue whale was spotted from the coast of Dumaguete City, not too far from the Boulevard. The people spotting it named it "Bughaw." And now it’s official. According to a new study that was published in March—thanks to the efforts of Filipino researchers—there have been 33 sightings of blue whales in the Philippines between 2004 and 2019 around the area of the Bohol Sea; 13 of those sightings have been confirmed to be Bughaw. The first one was in 2010, off Pamilacan Island in Bohol.
Bughaw is a pygmy blue whale. That's a subspecies of the biggest animal in the world: the true blue whale. Though at the moment the study only confirms Bughaw’s existance, BALYENA.ORG Founder and co-auther of the study Jom Acebes, says there could be more like it in our waters.
“It is definitely a possibility that there are other pygmy blue whales in the Philippines, we just need to find them,” Jom says.
According to Jom, we know that the blue whale that was sighted and photographed was Bughaw because of photo-identification. Blue whales have a unique pattern of blotches or pigmentation which can be found on the sides of their body. Bughaw was identified through a combination of pigmentation patterns on its left side, dorsal fin, and fluke.
BALYENA.ORG is a non-profit society that conducts research on whales and dolphins. They’ve been conducting annual surveys in the Bohol Sea since 2015, but the search for Bughaw began in 2019 thanks to funding from the National Geographic Society; the project has since been extended to 2021.
The study was a combined effort between marine scientists from local marine animal research groups like Balyena.org, Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE), Marine Wildlife Watch Philippines (MWWP), as well as Silliman University.
“For a species that is endangered and a subspecies that is very little-known, this contributes to the understanding of the species and its status in the world,” Jom says. “Locally, this highlights the importance of conserving and protecting the Bohol Sea and all other seas. The presence of these large whales is an indicator of the richness of this region. A region that is important for fisheries that sustain the lives and livelihoods of countless of communities.”
“This just goes to show that we still know very little about our marine environment and all the organisms living in it. It is important to continue this research and promote the conservation of our marine environment."